Booze Week 2011 lives on with one of our favorite subjects: free drinks. At-sea alcohol prices are anything but cheap, but savvy cruisers know how to keep from drowning in their bar bill.
Here are seven tips for scoring free cocktails on a cruise (and here are 9 more):
Loyalty pays … in booze. When it comes to gratis pours, cruise lines can be generous with their past passengers. Sail just once with Holland America and you can attend the complimentary Mariner Champagne Brunch. Amass 200 days at sea, and you’ll get the Champagne brunch, a complimentary wine tasting, plus half off wine packages. Royal Caribbean ups the ante by hosting open-bar nightly cocktail events for its hardcore repeaters. Read more about cruise line past passenger programs.
Attend a party. Disney Cruise Line‘s captain’s cocktail party, which is open to all passengers on formal night, provides complimentary drinks. In fact, for most lines, the master’s formal introduction is made as servers dart about with booze-topped trays. Sometimes it’s the goodbyes that are worth celebrating. Carnival Cruise Lines tries to make a strong impression with its Farewell Fun Party, a free-flowing event that’s often poorly attended (readers say it’s not well advertised). Princess Cruises holds a similar farewell soiree on cruises of 14 nights or longer.
Check out an art auction. At-sea art auctions and free cheap sparkling wine go together like surrealists and curly moustaches. Whether you bid, buy or pass, the drinks are free. (Should you bid, buy or pass? Learn more about cruise ship art auctions.)
Look for 2-for-1’s. On a recent sailing aboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, a number of bars advertised hour-long BOGO specials. We stumbled onto such a happy hour at the crystal-and-drape-covered Champagne & Martini bar, and stumbled out after doubling up on the normally $8 to $10 concoctions. Peruse the daily newsletter for time and place.
Upgrade to luxury. On upscale lines like Seabourn, all alcoholic beverages — including French Champagne — are included in the fare, plus there’s a stocked bar in every suite. (Note: Ultra-premium wines typically cost extra.) Naturally, you’ll be paying substantially more up front to sail on a luxury ship.
Sit down at the tables. As long as you’re splashing chips (or inserting pennies) in Vegas or Atlantic City establishments, the beer tap remains open. Not so at sea. Comped beverages generally aren’t part of the action — unless you’re a player. Sign up for Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Casinos at Sea Players Club, make sure have the pit boss swipe your card each time you play, and you could be on your way to getting free drinks. A representative for Norwegian’s casino reservation center said players need to accrue 1,500 seabucks to get the coveted “drink card.” Without going into too much details, that requires a bit of dedication (time and dollars). But there’s an easier way: Harrah’s Total Rewards card holders (membership is free) who book a cruise through Norwegian’s Casinos at Sea can get the drink card. Just be sure to mention your TR status when booking.
Suite guests stay lubricated. Book a Grand Suite or up on a Royal Caribbean ship, and you’ll have access to the Concierge Club Lounge, found on Enchantment of the Seas and all Radiance-, Voyager-, Freedom- and Oasis-class ships. There are nightly happy hours — actually happy 3.5 hours — during which servers dole out equal parts conversation and Chardonnay.
Have your own secrets to getting free drinks at sea — like over-tipping a favorite bar tender? Share them in the comments section.
Learn everything about cruise booze in our Ultimate Guide to Drinking at Sea.
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